STEM gets broader — and shallower

In a vain attempt to make STEM appealing to right-brained students, educators are ignoring and alienating the left-brained math and science guys, writes Katharine Beals in Out in Left Field.

Efforts to Inspire Students Have Born Little Fruit, reports the New York Times. The story cites President Obama’s Educate to Innovate initiative and the lack of improvement by U.S. students on the Program of International Student Assessment (PISA) tests.

Beals sees it differently.

. . . our schools, and our society more generally, are no longer encouraging and educating the kind of student who is most likely to persevere in STEM careers. These are the left-brained math and science types, more and more of whom face a dumbed-down, language-arts intensive Reform Math curriculum, and a science curriculum that increasingly emphasizes projects over the core knowledge and quantitative skills needed to succeed in college level science courses.

At the expense of encouraging this type of student, K12 schools are trying to broaden the appeal of math and science—by making them even less mathematical and scientific. And so we have algebra taught as dancefraction muralsphotosynthesis as dance, and science festivals featuring showy displays of gadgetry as well as theater, art, and music.

“The kind of student who finds these approaches engaging and enlightening” isn’t likely to persevere through a STEM major, she predicts. Those with the potential to be STEM specialists want to learn math and science.

At Auntie Ann’s school, the science fair used to require students to conduct an experiment. Now they can make a Rube Goldberg machine or a robot or research an environmental issue. “This year they’ve also connected it to an art exhibit to make it the full STEAM experience.”

It used to be the only time students did a research project and wrote a “serious paper,” she writes. Now students get full credit for writing 30 sentences. “The kids who did Rube Goldberg machines had nothing to write a paper about, so they had to write a biography of Rube Goldberg.”

Borrowing trouble

President Obama’s expansion of income-based repayment offers short-term relief, but will encourage reckless borrowing, enable colleges to keep raising tuition and promote the idea that everyone needs a four-year degree.

As long as college loans aren’t linked to the degree’s value — which varies depending on the major — young people will borrow too much.

Obama extends 10% cap on loan repayment

Using an executive order, President Obama extended generous income-based repayment terms to an estimated five million more student loan debtors. People with student loans will be able to limit payments to 10 percent of their discretionary incomes. Loans will be forgiven in 20 years — or 10 years if they take public-service (government) jobs.

The big winners are people who borrowed for graduate school and private colleges, which can keep raising tuition without fear of scaring away students.

Obama: Train solar energy workers

President Obama called for training “50,000 workers to enter the solar industry by 2020” in his climate change speech last month. However, solar trainees are having trouble finding work in an unstable industry dependent on government incentives.

Colleges rattled by Obama’s rating plans

President Obama’s college rating proposal has “rattled” college presidents, who fear it will be simplistic and misleading. It didn’t help when a top education official said it would be “like rating a blender.”

Obama wants Congress to link student loans and grants to college ratings, which will be based on graduation rates, student debt, graduates’ earnings and other factors. Highly selective universities are likely to do very well, but most students can go to college only if they can afford a not-very-selective or open-admissions college or university.

Obama touts job training, but where’s the money?

President Obama’s “rhetorical support for vocational training” hasn’t been matched with money. In 2012 the federal government spent more than $180 billion on aid and tax benefits for college students, but only $1 billion on vocational education.

Obama: ‘Take a job-driven approach’

Apprenticeships and employer-sponsored job training will prepare young people for middle-class jobs, President Obama said last week at a Pittsburgh community college.

The 2 little words Obama won’t say

President Obama likes to talk about new education standards, but there are two little words he won’t say, writes Rebecca Klein on the Huffington Post. He never says “Common Core.” She’s got the videos to prove it.

Duncan calls for teacher followership

Ed Secretary Arne Duncan’s Teach to Lead initiative is really a call for teacher followership, writes Rick Hess.

. . .  it’s good to see Duncan talking explicitly about the need for teachers to play a leading role in making change happen. Too often, Obama administration officials have seemed to offer teachers banal pats on the head while cheering broad new federal directives.

On the other hand, Duncan went on to blithely tout the administration’s wondrous “series of changes” that’s “raising standards,” changing assessment, and creating new systems for the “support and evaluation of educators.” . . .

Indeed, his call for teacher leadership looked like a call for teachers to help promote the Obama agenda — to shill for the Common Core, celebrate new teacher evaluation systems, and be excited that the feds are here to help.

Pushing for someone else’s agenda is called “following,” not “leading,” Hess concludes.

College heads resist federal database

College presidents say their institutions should be reporting their graduates’ debt levels and job placement rates, but don’t want the federal government collecting and publishing data on student outcomes. They really don’t like Obama’s proposed ratings system.